Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"You've got something on your head there..."

First, to say this--I felt my first ever real earthquake this morning! Wihoo! So the earth really does move, it turns out. Here I grew up thinking it was rock.

So I went down to the Episcopal church nearby to take part in their noon Eucharist for Ash Wednesday. I'll be going to my own church tonight, but I went to this neighborhood service as a sort of 'freebie.' Just a chance to sit and not feel even a little responsible for any part of the service.

It was lovely. About thirty people there in a tiny chapel (not the main sanctuary). The homily was beautiful--a gentle, warm invitation to slow down, notice God, open ourselves to God's relationship with us in the days ahead. It was like soothing balm after the sandpaper scriptures for the day.

The lectionary folks were really at their most brilliant/persnickity selves in their selection of the day's texts, weren't they? Especially the gospel for the day! It starts out with a bang:
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven."
So, what do you do with that?

After the service, I walked down to the Thai place and got some lunch to bring home for D and me. As I stood considering what to get, the woman behind the counter scrambled to get a napkin for me: "You've got something on your head there," she said, kindly offering me the napkin.

"It's okay." I grinned at her, "They're ashes."

"Oh! I'm so sorry!" she said, clearly embarrassed. I assured her it was okay, and laughed with her. "I just got them." I apologized, with the gospel text still ringing in my ears. As if to say, "I don't mean to display my piety! My bad!"

When I got home, I rubbed off the boldness of the ash. But I couldn't quite bring myself to remove all of it. I so rarely get to express my faith in a physical sense. I was loathe to erase this particular embodiment of my faith.

So my question, I guess, is: In a culture that believes faith is a private matter, might the counter-cultural nature of 'displaying your piety' be more radical than keeping it hidden? How long do you keep the ashes on your head?

6 comments:

will smama said...

"In a culture that believes faith is a private matter, might the counter-cultural nature of 'displaying your piety' be more radical than keeping it hidden?"

You know, I think you just may be on to something there.

Kudos on thinking of going to another service. I only thought of doing that too late. I finished our service here with no ashes since I am solo and no one else is comfortable enough with it to do it with me.

Pink Shoes said...

I, too, went to a Thai place for lunch after our noon worship, ashes and all.
Kept waiting for someone to say something, but no one did. But I was viciously conscious of myself -- ashes on my forehead, collar around my neck.
you're definitely on to something...

srf said...

I find myself conflicted in my reaction to your observation, particularly when considering whether we really live in a culture in which "faith is a private matter." I am becoming aware each day of the ways in which someone else's faith is very public and often used to impinge on my political and social rights. It seems like "faith" is ever more in public, in US laws, political rhetoric, debates over content taught in schools, becoming part of what governs my body and my relationships. This particular display of piety is not, in my opinion, what the Jesus of the gospels is calling us to. So does the radical-ness come in the displaying, that is, how one chooses to display their faith, the difference between using your faith to squelch people's rights and ... Or does the differnce come in the substance of the faith that is displayed? Or none of the above?
On some level, I too resonate with your idea of dispaying your piety being the radical move, especially as I think about the ways in which progressive churches are seeking to find a more public voice. But the conflict still lingers. Thanks for sparking my thoughts about it.

LutheranChik said...

The irony of the Gospel lesson hit me, too, sitting there with ashes on my forehead.

But I think it all comes down to intention. There are indeed people who will be tempted to use their ashed foreheads as a way to say, "HEY! LOOK AT ME! I AM SOOOOO SPIRITUAL AND HOLY! I'M NOT LIKE THOSE OTHER PEOPLE WITHOUT ASHES ON THEIR HEADS!" But there are other people for whom the ashes say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." And that in itself is a radical pledge of allegiance to something other than the dominant culture.

Mary Beth said...

I wash them off just as soon as I can. We went for dinner after service on Ash Weds and I wiped them off in the car. I have a horror of wearing them in public. Seems to me that the scripture for THAT service has to mean something!

see-through faith said...

I went to this neighborhood service as a sort of 'freebie.' Just a chance to sit and not feel even a little responsible for any part of the service.

I love to do this too :)

Be blessed!